Authors

Economics

Gold reentering the monetary system

Early in 2011, the London Bullion Market Association began to push for gold to be recognised by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision as the ultimate high-quality liquid asset. It has been a planned approach involving the wider financial community, with the European Parliament voting unanimously to recommend that central counterparties (basically regulated settlement intermediaries for securities markets) accept gold as collateral under the European Market Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR). Lobbying by the LBMA certainly contributed to this favourable outcome. A growing acceptance of gold as collateral in regulated markets is forcing the Basel Committee to reconsider the position of gold as a banking asset, which currently has a 50% valuation haircut. It is now a racing certainty the haircut will be revised to zero, the same status as secure cash.

This is an important development for the physical gold market, and early warning of the change was signalled by a consultation document issued by the Fed and banking regulators in the light of forthcoming Basel 3 regulations [1]. It must have stuck in the Fed’s craw to have to circulate a proposal that

A bank holding company or savings and loan holding company may assign a risk-weighted asset amount of zero to cash owned and held in all offices of subsidiary depository institutions or in transit; and for gold bullion held in a subsidiary depository institution’s own vaults, or held in another depository institution’s vaults on an allocated basis, to the extent the gold bullion assets are offset by gold bullion liabilities. [2]

There can be little doubt, if history is any guide, that the US Treasury and the Fed would rather not give gold a status that rivals the dollar, but they cannot boss the Basel Committee around. Ever since President Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard, the official mantra has been that gold no longer has any monetary role. To do an about-turn and accord it the same rank as dollar-cash is therefore extremely significant. Furthermore, there is an unarguable logic in favour of not penalising banks who wish to diversify their balance sheets and collateral away from fiat currencies, some of which are becoming increasingly risky in these times of systemic stress.

The proposal is only at the stage where comments are invited, but it is unlikely that the banks will turn this proposal down, since it represents a secure lending opportunity and the opportunity to diversify a bank’s own assets without facing a risk-weighting penalty. The proposal when implemented is certain to encourage banks to buy gold, and the bullion banks in London will hedge uncovered unallocated customer liabilities. And what is sauce for the commercial goose is also sauce for the central-bank gander: it makes no sense for the central banks to continue to marginalise gold on their own balance sheets. Instead, central banks should abandon the myth of valuing gold on their books at $42.22 and treat it as a proper monetary asset.

What this proposal amounts to is no less than the official remonetisation of gold. And as the implications dawn upon the wider banking community we shall see increasing numbers of banks seeking gold-related lending opportunities and more and more bankers seeking to acquire it as a core balance sheet asset.


[1] Very few commentators fully appreciate its importance, a notable exception being the current issue of John Butler’s Amphora Report, which is recommended reading.

[Editor’s note: also see Revolting PIIGs, A Golden Hope? by Ben Davies, 25 June]

[2] Page 291 and elsewhere.

22 comments to Gold reentering the monetary system

  • Paul Marks

    The out of control Welfare States (including the American one) are economically unsustainable and politically untouchable (the “auterity” in the Europe is an illusion – government spending in all the major nations is actually HIGHER than it was before the start of the current crises).

    Therefore default is inevitable – either open default or disguised default via inflation by Central Banks (the Federal Reserve, Bank of England, European Central Bank…..) producing even more fiat money than they already are.

    “Inflation protected” government debt paper (bonds, securities, call them what you will) will prove, in practice, to not be protected at all.

    Everything (including gold) carries risk. However, government debt paper AND CASH are now extreme high risk.

    It should be remembered that even CASH is simply fiat money – that governments can increase (at basically zero cost to themselves) by any amount they want to. Either directly or via Central Banks such as the Federal Reserve and the ECB.

    It has also already been seen that “legally binding” rules on such things as the European Central Bank are WORTHLESS – they can be violated on the basis of political whims.

    I repeat that there are risks involved in holding physical commodities (such as gold and silver).

    But government debt paper AND CASH now carry a higher risk.

    A much higher risk.

    • Robert Sadler

      I repeat that there are risks involved in holding physical commodities (such as gold and silver).

      What are these risks?

      Interestingly I am seeing John Butler tonight..

      • Paul Marks

        The risk is that the demand for gold and silver (or anything) may go down.

        Economic value is subjective – if people do not want gold or silver (or anything) so much, then the value falls.

        However, the value of gold or silver is very unlikely to fall to zero.

        Whereas that is a real possiblity with government debt paper.

        • Robert Sadler

          I agree.

          I would say that is a short-term market risk though and only really significant for a short term investor. For people like you and I, who save our wealth as gold and silver, there is virtually no risk at all.

  • therooster of Christ

    Take heed not to count on a top-down monetization effort. The real movement must be bottom-up to include actual circulation of bullion and/or fully backed bullion based derivatives such as goldmoney.com. It is only by circulating bullion that much needed liquidity can be added without the addition of new debt. Gresham’s Law is reversing because it’s predicated on a fixed-pegged gold value, not real-time gold as we have now.

    • Paul Marks

      It is indeed often forgotten that Gresham’s Law depends on a FIXED (RIGGED) exchange rate.

      If the exchange rate is not “fixed” then good money drives out bad – rather than bad money driving out good.

  • Stephan Larose

    It’s not welfare to normal people, a.k.a. social programs that have bankrupted governments, it is reliance on a monetary system in which private banks print money out of thin air to lend to governments at interest, massive government giveaways to the rich and well-connected, irresponsible, mindless militarism.

    Indeed social programs have created the healthiest of all our societies with the highest quality of life, look at Canada and the Scandinavian countries. However, if we allow private banks to print money out of thin air and lend it to the government at interest, we are rewarding counterfeiters (albeit “legal” counterfeiters) for their crime with real value plus enormous sums of interest. Citizens should own their national currency and the control its issue, not private banks. Anyone who argues against that need only look at the rampant corruption, incompetence and criminality that pervades the financial industry to see that these sociopaths and oligarchs have no place wielding any power whatsoever.

    Allowing private institutions to create “national” debt out of nothing is a crime, one that has as its result the enormous loss of real value and assets lost to a black hole of debt/interest payments on principle that never existed as anything other than a data entry on a computer.

    For the world to prosper, countries should all default on their debts as they are all virtual. Citizens would be well-advised to create new financial institutions which they directly own to coin national monies. The debt/interest saved would negate the need for payroll taxes and many other taxes, making social programs and other socially necessary “welfare” easy to afford. Also, money loaned to commercial banks in the national currency would earn citizens interest.

    Inflation could be controlled by limiting issue, retiring money according to various criteria, and either severely curbing or eliminating fractional reserve lending–the process by which banks lend out far more money than they actually have a.k.a–legal counterfeiting. This practice grossly inflates money supplies. International business could be settled in gold, silver or a new international financial instrument backed by real value.

    • mrg

      “Citizens should own their national currency and the control its issue, not private banks”

      I don’t share your faith in collectivism. There should be no such thing as a ‘national currency’. Money should be freely chosen by millions of individuals, not manipulated according to the tyranny of the majority.

      “For the world to prosper, countries should all default on their debts as they are all virtual.”

      I too believe that all government debts should be repudiated, but I don’t pretend that the debts are virtual. Most people’s pensions are at least partially ‘invested’ in government debt. These people will suffer.

      I’m okay with that, because I consider lending to the government to be morally equivalent to slave owning, but the consequences will be real.

      “The debt/interest saved would negate the need for payroll taxes and many other taxes”

      Which country do you have in mind?

      In the UK, debt interest amounted to £43.7 billion in 2011.

      http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/piechart_2011_UK_total

      No small sum, to be sure, but much less than the £250 billion that income tax and national insurance bring in every year.

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/apr/25/tax-receipts-1963

      “Inflation could be controlled by limiting issue”

      As long as money is under political control, good luck with that!

  • Gordin Ingram

    STEPHAN LAROSE – Thanks for your kind words about Canada, but unfortunately our present federal government is doing everything it possibly can to make the Canadian Economy more like the that of the U.S.

    Most of us are scared spitless.

    • andre

      your right about the Canadian condition and many many Canadians don’t even understand whats happening – they are ( unfortunately ) distracted by the same bread and circus as in the united states

  • andre

    its not really counterfeiting if the money belongs to you – a close up observation of what is called American currency – states that they are federal reserve notes – not American notes – America has no currency – they are simply borrowing the paper of the federal reserve – a private entity belonging to the major banks on wall street – if the federal reserve were to go away after there charter ends – would America still be able to use the federal reserve notes – could they not simply invalidate there own paper and leave Americans with nothing until the federal government replaced them with new national currency ?

    • mrg

      The Federal Reserve a private entity?

      As for invalidating the paper, it’s not as if the paper represents a claim on anything. If The Fed vanished overnight, people would continue using dollars.

      • Paul Marks

        Good points mrg.

        Opponents of the Federal Reserve often go into raptures over “United States Notes” the paper Dollars that used to be issued directly by the United States Treasury.

        They forget that the person who invented them (Salmon P. Chase) regarded them as an emergency wartime measure (Civil War) and later (in his later job as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) ruled them unconstitutional (First Greenback case – later overuled by the Second Greenback case).

        I am totally opposed to the Federal Reserve (and to the Bank of England), but nationalising it would serve no purpose.

        It is not really “private” anyway (any more than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were “private”) – its Chairman is POLITICALLY APPOINTED.

        Also the Bank of England was nationalized back in 1946 – anyone notice an improvement in monetary policy since then?

        Having “debt free money” issued directly by national Treasuries is just another version of the “easy money” fool’s gold that monetary cranks (Keynesian and nonKeynesian) have come out with for so long.

        For example, General Peron actually forbad banks to play the credit bubble game – they could only lend out real savings (not book keeping trick credit expansion).

        Did that usher in a hard money period in Argentine history? OF COURSE NOT – the GOVERNMENT (Peron’s government) just wanted a monopoly of doing this itself.

        The increase in the money supply was vastly MORE (not less) and Argentina went from being a First World country (with living standards on a par with Canada) to being a hyper inflationary Third World country.

        So much for “debt free money” and other such.

        If someone said “let us get away from book keeping tricks of bankers and stick to THRIFT, HARD WORK and SELF DENIAL” I would listen to them.

        But that is never the agenda.

        The agenda always is – “let us get rid of the bankers – and then INCREASE the money supply” (indeed increase it ten times, or a hundred times, or a thousand times, over and above what the bankers would have done).

        Before the smear attacks start………

        No I am no friend of the credit bubble bankers – quite the contrary.

        And as for the Federal Reserve – I would happily drive the bulldozer that knocked down its H.Q. and turned the whole place into a park.

        P.S. Sorry about the caps lock mrg – it is just so much less difficult than trying to work out how to use italics on this system.

        • mrg

          P.S. Sorry about the caps lock mrg – it is just so much less difficult than trying to work out how to use italics on this system.

          No worries :-)

          FWIW, you just have to surround the text with <i> tags, e.g.

          <i>This text would be in italics</i> (if I hadn’t written it using &lt;).

          • andre

            i agree – i like using the ” – ” myself – its more visible than the ” . ” on some text editors – its the words that count

          • Paul Marks

            Sorry mrg – I am so tech ignorant that I do not follow what you are saying here (looking at your post – which I am sure, to a normal person, was perfectly straightforwards – was like looking at Ancient Greek to me).

            You would have to grab hold of my hand and say “now bang that key – then this one….” and I would most likely forget by the following day.

            • andre

              i used to think all this financial stuff was complicated until i realized it has become just gambling – lots of fancy words are used to describe the same actions that are employed in Vegas or the neighbourhood bookie – bankers as just loan sharks and bookies that wear 6000 dollar suits and hide behind legitimacy – the fact is that the average people who work for there money are the only legitimate ones and the bankers derive there legitimacy from proximity to hard working people who they then steal from – bankers do what they do because its in there nature – at heart they are just criminals

            • mrg

              Hi Paul,

              I realise HTML’s not for everyone, but it is quite easy once you get used to it.

              A bit of formatted text starts with a start tag: a “less than” sign, followed immediately by a tag name (e.g. i for italics), followed immediately by a “greater than” sign.

              The formatting ends with an end tag, which is the same as the start tag except that it contains a forward slash before the tag name.

              The simplest thing initially is probably just to copy and paste. Try copying the following line into one of your comments:

              <i>text with emphasis</i>

              All that said, I actually think that text usually reads better with minimal emphasis. As andre says, it’s the words that count, so let them do the talking :-)

              FWIW, when I need emphasis in plain text, I tend to use asterisks, *like so*.

        • andre

          i believe that something is worth what some one is willing to pay -thats why when i trade – i only look at the bid price and don’t care to much about the ask price – that being said – i believe if fractional reserve banking were to go away and become replaced by gold / silver / copper – there would be less money in the system and thats how it should be -all prices would drop for everything and thats how it should be to – we would all be living within our means and not writing checks we can’t cash

          if only constitutional money was used – all these games would not be played – thats why the founders thought of this in the first place – in a constitutional system we would earn less but everything would have to cost less ( because no one would buy it – something is only worth what someone is willing to pay ) every thing would balance out and we would have a HONEST monetary system that the vampire banks could not manipulate – thats why they don’t want gold for us but they sure keep buying gold

      • andre

        true but would the rest of the world keep accepting the fiat paper

  • Paul Marks

    “But what would you do Paul Marks”.

    I would allow people (buyers and sellers) to use whatever commodity they wished as money – and government would collect its taxes in that commodity.

    Governments would not back bankers (neither national banks – or Andrew Jackson style local level “pet banks”).

    Money (in the form of the commodity that people used to buy and sell) would come into the Treasury and be paid out in spending – real “pay as you go”.

    The system that the only professional banker ever to become President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, set up.

    President Van Buren understood his profession (banking) far too well to want any government involvement in it. Or any government dependance upon it.

    And like Senator Benton, Van Buren’s first response to any bank (or, indeed, any individual or organisation)that issued notes claiming to represent gold and silver was…..

    SHOW ME the bullion.

    And if you issued more notes (or other financial paper) than you actually had bullion….. well being taken to court would be the least of your worries……..

    Hence “bullion Benton” – not the most trusting person in history.

    And it was wise to actually have the metal if you were issuing notes (anywhere near Benton).

    Senator Benton on Andrew Jackson

    “I shot him once – a fine man”.

    I suppose if Benton liked you (if you were a friend of his) he would only shoot you a little bit.

    It really was unwise to make him dislike you…..

    Of course the great bankers of more modern times (such as J.P. Morgan – the best known banker of the early 20th century) were BOTH investors of real savings (their own and those of “depositors” – horribly misleading word “deposit” because, of course, the money is not, can not be, “deposited” it is LENT OUT) and dealers in credit bubbles (credit expansion – “broad money” if you prefer).

    Men like J.P. Morgan were neither saints or demons – they were a mixture of good and bad.

    What is really different about the modern world is NOT the invention of credit bubbles (there have always been credit bubbles).

    What is different about the modern world is the change in the BALANCE.

    Once real savings were central to the banking business (credit expansion was something on the side – on top of this).

    These days the credit bubble (creating “money” by book keeping tricks and lending it out) is the main thing – and real savings are a side issue (no longer the central part of the banking business).

    This has NOT been a natural process.

    The transformation of banking has been pushed (every step of the way) by GOVERNMENT POLICY.

    Governments (who fools look to to “regulate” the financial industry)LIKE credit bubble finance.

    Governments DEPEND UPON credit bubble finance – both for tax revenues and for “cheap borrowing”.

    Forget a finacial system based 100% on real savings – if real savings were even just the important central part of the financial system (as they used to be) then the whole modern structure of government would collapse.

    I repeat – the modern political set up depends upon not just the existance of credit bubbles (there have always been credit bubbles), but on the credit bubble (not real savings) being the CENTRAL PART of the financial system.

    Is it sustainable?

    Of course it is not sustainable.

    That is the “bottom line” truth.

    Whether the present financial system goes or stays – the political system is doomed.

    One can not base the political economy of an entire society on a vast credit bubble – at least not sustainably.

    • andre

      excellent response – and you have shown the bankers for the true criminals they are – there antics have gotten the whole free world into this mess